Monday, February 15, 2016


    The man behind me poked me in the back and said
"So you're from Indianapolis huh?"
     "You know Indianapolis is very famous in this town."
     "Is that right?" I said, expecting a comment about the Indianapolis 500.
      "Yea. We've got an oncologist out here who sends his worst patients to Indianapolis, because it'll be the longest year in their life."
       And that is how I met Phil Allen 14 years ago. We were prospecting a post retirement move to Cambria and that chance meeting led a great friendship. In fact Phil and Nan became our California "mentors" helpful in countless ways as we awaited retirement, decided on making the move, purchased a home and then beginning the life changing odyssey. 
       Early on Phil invited Lana and me to join him and Ed Simonsen on Saturday mornings for coffee and crepes at Lilly's. Ed, 90 at the time, ran the Drop In Tennis play. He and Phil convinced this longtime basketball player to take up a new sport. Phil loaned me a racquet and kept after me to take up the game. He invited this rank novice into play in his regularly scheduled foursomes and thus my love affair with the game began.  
        As Phil rounded 80 his game began to slow and a chronic back problem began to take its toll. Before he finally hung it up he'd limp onto the court and if the shot was anywhere within reach he'd slap a backhand or snap a forehand at you, or at your feet, or toward the alley. He loved tennis and years later when hobbled by other health issues he'd remind those of us playing how lucky we were.
        "Even a bad game of tennis is a great day."
        He also loved jokes, cigars and friends. On that first chance meeting he invited us back to his house for coffee. I noticed a cigar in the ashtray on his deck overlooking the Pacific. That led to an invitation to join the "prayer group" a group of his buddies who'd gather on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons for a cup of coffee, tell jokes and enjoy a cigar. Not everyone smoked a cigar, but Phil did so with relish. The "prayer group" was religious about enjoying life, inquiring about the well being of friends and even pausing for a prayerful moment when someone was having trouble. Nan called it "Smoke and Joke," in fact a more appropriate name. There'd be days I couldn't make it and Phil would remind me I needed to get "my priorities straight." For more than 20 years that circle of friends added to the zest for life he enjoyed. And from time to time a few "younger guys" like me, were invited in. We called ourselves the youth movement, but Phil, Reg, John and Paul were young at heart.
         Phil used to say "It doesn't get any better than this" and he'd flash his thumbs up signature. It could be on a deck with the old boys, or having coffee with the tennis crowd or relishing a meal out.
          We used to joke about Phil's endless supply of jokes. He always took pride in saying he "could tell his jokes in any crowd," and for the most part that was true. One night a few years ago he went to an open mic night at the Lodge and between musical acts trotted out some of his best stuff in a short stand up routine.
        Phil was a lot more than a jester. He was a brilliant mind with a great curiosity forever recommending history books or documentaries. He had worked for an engineering company and had a grasp of technology and numbers that was off the chart. Some of his greatest understanding of math was the stock market. He'd begun investing when he was 12 or 13 and a newspaper boy. Phil retired before most people, giving him some 30 years in our village. When Phil spoke, people listened. I guess there was a time when he applied his knowledge to horse racing. In the last years he of spoke about wanting to get back for a day at the track.
        He was a great pie maker and analytical about the taste of the fruit and the need for a lack of need for sugar. He had a penchant for rhubarb saying the Midwest variety was superior to California's. There was a particular kind of apple or a specific type of lemon he needed before making his pies.
        The last few years have been tough but in many ways illuminating. Phil's back required extensive surgery and rehabilitation. A stroke robbed the strength of his right leg. He still harbored a hope he could get back to tennis, but that was not to be. He still got to coffee, the prayer group, though he had to forgo his beloved cigar. He enjoyed dinner with friends. He hated the idea of using a walker and undertook a regime of practice so he could walk with just a cane.  
       Many of us marveled at his determination and he was rightfully proud. It scared the heck out of us, but he'd park the walker or the cane and walk around to show us his improvement and seemed to be moving that right leg and foot by the force of will power. Then a few months ago when we were enjoying one of our early rains, Phil, with walker snuck out on to his sloped driveway to wash his car. A mid 80's man, with a walker on a steep angle, washing his car in a cold rain.
       "I saved 10 dollars" he said a couple of weeks later after recovering. Guys used to kid him about changing his own oil, something he gave up only a few years ago.   
        Phil was a philanthropist and many groups have benefited. He was a straight spoken guy. You knew in a moment where you stood with him and he pulled no punches.  He went to the leader of a group he thought was ruining the organization. He told him he was "racing a bus down hill with no breaks and he needed to go." He even offered to help the guy leave.
        He had a zest for life and an enthusiasm that was exemplary. Despite the recent medical adversities he enjoyed the gusto of being alive.
        Phil departed this world on Valentine's Day. Lana and I were fortunate to spend time with him the evening before and he reacted with delight when Lana mentioned she was baking him a loaf of bread.
        We were more fortunate to have been befriended by Phil all those years ago. The "Prayer Group," Lilly's and Cambria will seem emptier. We will miss him.
        As those of us of the boomer generation continue coming into our senior years, a rascal like Phil is a great example of living fully to the last breath and always appreciating the blessings of family, friends and a good laugh.
         Phil, we saw this coming. Guess we should have gotten you a ticket to Indianapolis.

    True to the unpredictability of political outcomes, the battle over the Supreme Court nomination is likely to have surprising impact.
     The President should put forth a nomination and the Senate should consider it.  
      How all of that plays out will begin to wash into the Presidential campaign. If the GOP in the Senate under the obstructionist McConnell hold fast on their opposition it could begin to erode their majority and wouldn't that be interesting.
       Who the President puts forward will put all candidates into a position of reacting.  Not even Aaron Sorkin can write scripts like this.

     See you down the trail.


  1. Very nice tribute to your good friend. So sorry for your loss. He sounded like a terrific guy.

  2. Excellent testimony to your friend, made me feel as though I knew Phil. He's an example for us boomers for sure. It's not easy when mortality rears it's head to slip into a less than full life, Phil seems a model for a different path.

    Yes, the departure of Scalia does stir the mix, eh? How will the GOP fare in the election if they either don't convene to decide, or dismiss out of hand or for facile reasons? To my mind the big 'what if' is if they don't rule or approve a moderate that the President nominates, they have to be wondering if a Trump, Cruz, or some other nutjob can really be elected. And then, here comes a moderate to liberal to replace one of the most agenda-oriented conservative judges ever.

    1. Phil enjoyed for as long as he could. That is a good path.

      The unknown or X factor in a Trump or Cruz should frighten their own party as much as it does the rest of us.

  3. My parents best friends up were childless. From the time I was 3 or 4 years old, my Father's buddy was my 2nd Dad. He was by turn, strict, funny, adventurous and he later became a pal and mentor of mine. The last time I saw him he was suffering from diabetes and both his legs had been amputated. He had been 6 feet tall and now he said he'd been turned into a "damn midget". We laughed and talked about the old man, our fishing trips and how hard he'd always tried to dump me when I was water skiing. When I was getting ready to leave, he asked me what size my feet were. I told him and he said, "perfect". His wife Margaret brought a pair of Lucchese black alligator cowboy boots from his closet and he gave them to me. Still have them and still wear them from time to time. He was the last of my Dad's friends to pass and I cherish the memories as you will.

    1. They give us an idea how to behave in the next 15 to 20 years.

  4. Glad I was able to connect with Phil on several visits to Cambria.He was full of life. Always had a joke. He liked the fact that I lived in Indiana. May he rest in peace.

  5. An excellent post about Phil, Tom. I was honored to be included at one of his "prayer groups" with you and Grif when I visited Cambria. He asked me why I lived in Arizona and I said "well because I couldn't afford California," for a laugh. Then when I began to answer seriously, he let me get about 5 words out and cut me of and called on someone else to speak. A great kidder. You did a good job delivering an on-line eulogy for him.

    As for the SCOTUS, I heard that someone said today the only candidate he could imagine Obama getting confirmed was Orrin Hatch. Saints preserve us. (So to speak.)

    1. Thanks. You should have employed one of his favorite lines--"don't let the middle of my sentence interfere with the beginning of yours!"
      Had not heard that! Wow!

  6. Tom, I didn't know Phil well but enjoyed his cleverness. Didn't know he was so influential in bringing you to tennis. Wonderful tribute to an obviously talented man. I'm frankly often astounded how much of a love affair you are having with Cambria. I'm rather pessimistic about the future of Cambria tennis, and even our future here at times. Oh, we're in Hawaii and met someone from Indiana who remembers your broadcasts. Some day we've got to get together socially.

    1. Bill, I look forward to that.
      I always enjoy our court time together though you are light years ahead of me.
      We do indeed love life in our village and in the pastoral peace of the Central Coast. Nature is a big part of it, but so too the eccentricities, vibrance, talent and intellect of the people, so many of whom are "characters."

  7. Beautiful tribute to Phil, Tom. You're lucky, however, than Phil was not a croquet devotee. Your integration into Cambria life might have been different.

  8. I loved the guy too and shall miss him.

  9. I enjoyed being in Phil's Monday tennis group beginning in 2000 when Valerie and I moved to Cambria. Though Phil and I disagreed on lots of "stuff," mostly political, I always enjoyed our discussions, and my appreciation for life and fun was well enhanced by spending time with him on the court and at Lily's. Since moving down to Carpinteria, I've missed my Cambria pals, particularly good guys like Phil.
    By the way, I recently "survived" quadruple by-pass surgery and am doing quite well for a progressive.

    1. Steve-
      So very good to hear from you though I'm sorry I didn't know about your quadruple by-pass. Sorry you needed to endure it, but grateful and pleased to hear you are doing well. I should think your progressive nature would be an advantage.
      I have fond memories of those days when we shared a court or coffee with Phil and David. When some of the political divides became apparent you had the uncommon skill of continuing to peruse the sports page while meshing the political rubrics that were sailing. Be well! We miss you up north.

  10. Maria Allen (Ed's wife)February 17, 2016 at 8:32 AM

    The day I married my husband (24 years ago), I gained a witty, loving, intelligent and wise father (in-love), Phil Allen. Your tribute to Dad is so beautiful and spot-on. From bad jokes that one couldn't help but laugh at to his one-liners, Dad was a man to not be forgotten. He always told me I was a pain in the ass, as I'm sure he told many. But I gave it right back to him and would tell him he was my favorite pain in the ass! Dad gave his family unconditional love and honest advice about life, money, work ethic and so much more. Thank you for this amazing tribute to an incredible man.

    1. Maria-
      Thanks for taking the time for the post. Our thoughts are with you all. You are right about Phil, he is not to be forgotten!

  11. An eloquent tribute to a wonderful guy. Only met him briefly but enjoyed him immensely. It is tough to lose those larger-than-life friends.

  12. His passing leaves a huge void in the Cambria scene. I'm glad you had the chance to meet him. Thanks for your words.